By A.W. Pink
We shall now consider one of the most illustrious characters set before us in the pages of Holy Writ, one who is expressly designated "the friend of God" (Jam. 2:23), and from whom Christ Himself derives one of His titles, "the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1). Not only was he the one from whom the favored nation of Israel sprang, but he is also "the father of all them that believe" (Rom. 4:11). It is scarcely consonant with our present design to review here the remarkable life of this man; yet the history of Abraham--in its broad outlines, at least--is so closely bound up with the covenant which Jehovah made with him, that it is hardly possible to give any exposition of the latter without paying more or less attention to the former. Nevertheless, we shall be obliged to pass by many interesting episodes in his varied experience if our discussion of the Abrahamic covenant is to be kept within anything like reasonable bounds.
A period of more than three hundred years passed from the time that the Lord made the covenant with Noah and the appearing of Abraham upon the stage of sacred history. We may here note briefly two things which occurred in that period, and we do so because of the bearing which they have and the light they throw upon our present subject. The first of these is the remarkable prophecy uttered by Noah in Genesis 9:25-27. Passing by the sad incidents which immediately preceded and gave rise to the prediction, we would observe particularly its pronouncements as they intimated the future development of God's purpose of grace. This comes out first in the "Blessed be the Lord God of Shem," or as it should more properly be rendered, "Blessed be [or "Praised be"] Jehovah, the God of Shem." This is the first time in Scripture that we find God calling Himself the God of any particular person; moreover, it was as Jehovah He should be related to Shem.
Jehovah is God made known in covenant relationship: it is God in His manifested personality as taking subjects into His free favor; it is God granting a revelation of His institutions for redemption. These were to be the specific portion of Shem--in sharp contrast from the curse pronounced upon Ham; not of Shem simply as an individual, but as the head of a distinct section of the human race. It was with that section God was to stand in the nearest relation: it was a spiritual distinction which they were to enjoy: a covenant relation, a priestly nearness. A special interest in the divine favor is what was denoted in this primitive prediction concerning Shem. His descendants were to be the line through which the divine blessing was to flow: it was among them that Jehovah was to be known, and where His kingdom was to be set up and established.
"God shall enlarge Japheth, and he [Japheth] shall dwell in the tents of Shem." The obvious meaning of the first clause is, God would give Japheth a numerous posterity, with widely extended territories, which has been fulfilled in the fact that they have not only gained possession of all Europe, North and South America, and Australia, but likewise a large portion of Asia. The stock of Japheth was to be the most energetic and ambitious of Noah's descendants, giving themselves to colonization and diffusive operations, pushing their way and establishing themselves far and wide. But it is the second clause of Genesis 9:27 we are now more concerned with: "and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem"--he was to enjoy fellowship in the high spiritual privileges of Shem. Japheth was to come under the divine protection and be admitted to the blessings which were the peculiar but not exclusive portion of Shem.
Throwing the light of the New Testament upon this ancient prophecy, we find it clearly announced that it was through the line of Shem that the gifts of grace and the blessings of salvation were more immediately to flow. Yet so far from them being confined unto that section of the human family, the larger portion of it (Japheth) would also share their good. The Shemites were to have them firsthand, but the descendants of Japheth were also to participate in them. "The exaltation of Shem's progeny into the nearest relationship to God, was not that they might keep the privilege to themselves, but that first getting it, they should admit the sons of Japheth, the inhabitants of the isles, to share with them in the boon, and spread it as wide as their scattered race should extend" (P. Fairbairn).
Here, then, in this early prediction through Noah we have the germ of what is more fully developed in later Scripture. It was only by entering the tents of Shem that Japheth could enter the place where divine blessing was to be found, which, in the language of the New Testament is only another way of saying that from the Jews would salvation flow forth unto the Gentiles. But before we develop that thought a little further, we would mention a very striking point brought out by E. W. Hengstenberg in his most suggestive three volume work on The Christology of the Old Testament. Amid his dry and technical notes on the Hebrew text, he shows how that "as the reaction against Ham's sin had originated with Shem (Gen. 9:23), Japheth only joining himself in it; so in the future, the rich home of salvation and piety would be with Shem, to whom Japheth, in the felt need of salvation, should come near."
"And he [Japheth] shall dwell in the tents of Shem." The earth was to be possessed and peopled by the three sons of Noah. Of them, Shem was the one selected to be the peculiar channel of divine gifts and communications; but these were to be not for his own exclusive benefit, but rather to the end that others might share in the blessing. The kingdom of God was to be established in Shem, but Japheth should be received into its community. Therein was intimated not only that "salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22), but also the mystery of Romans 11:11, and so forth. Though "salvation is of the Jews," nevertheless, Gentiles should be partakers of it. Though Shem alone be the real root and trunk, yet into their tree the Gentiles should be "grafted!" Though he appeared to speak dark words, yet, by the Holy Spirit, Noah was granted amazing light and was given a deep insight into the secret counsels of the Most High.
The connection between what we have briefly dwelt upon above with our present subject is so obvious that few words are called for in connection therewith. The remarkable prophecy of Noah began to receive its historical unfolding when the Lord announced to the patriarch, "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). Abraham was of the stock of Shem (Gen. 11:1, 23, 26), and he was now made the depository of the divine promises (Gal. 3:16); yet God's blessing was to be confined neither to himself nor to his lineal descendants, but "all families of the earth" were to be the gainers thereby. Yet, notwithstanding, it was only through Abraham that the Gentiles were to be advantaged: "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed"--the central promise in the Abrahamic covenant. What was that but reaffirming, in more specific detail, "God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem"? How perfect is the harmony of God's wondrous Word!
The second thing to be noted, which happened during the interval between the Noahic and the Abrahamic covenants, and which clearly had a bearing upon the latter, is the incident recorded in Genesis 11--namely, the building and overthrow of the tower of Babel. It is a great mistake to regard that event as an isolated occurrence; rather is it to be considered as the heading up of an evil course and movement. Of the events which transpired from the Deluge to the call of Abraham embracing an interval of over four centuries--the information we possess is brief and summary, yet enough is recorded to show that the character of man is unchanged, the same in principle and practice as it had been before the Flood. It might perhaps have been expected that so terrible a judgment would have left upon the survivors and their descendants for many generations a deep and salutary impression, which would have acted as a powerful restraint upon their evil propensities. Alas, what is man!
Even in the family of Noah, and while the remembrance of the awful visitation of God's wrath was still fresh in their minds, there were indications which testified to both the existence and exercise of sinful dispositions, which the recent judgment had failed to eradicate or even curb. The sad failure of Noah himself, and the wicked behavior of his son on beholding the fall of his father, afforded awful proof that the evil which is in the heart of fallen man is so deeply rooted and so powerful that nothing external, no matter how frightful, can subdue it; and supplied a distinct foreboding of what was soon made manifest on a wider scale and in a much worse form. Idolatry itself quickly found an entrance and speedily established itself among the inhabitants of the earth in their dispersion. Joshua 27:2 gives us more than a hint of this, while Romans 1:21-23 casts a flood of light upon that dark situation.
Within a short time after the Deluge, human depravity resumed its old course and manifested itself in open defiance of heaven. As the population of the earth increased, evil schemes of ambition began to be entertained; and soon there appeared on the scene one who took the lead in wickedness. He is first brought before us in Genesis 10:8: "Nimrod: who began to be a mighty one in the earth." It is to be noted that he belonged to the line of Ham, upon which the divine curse had been pronounced, and significantly enough "Nimrod" means "the Rebel"--suitable title for the one who headed a great confederacy in open revolt against God. This confederacy is described in Genesis 11; and that it was an organized revolt against Jehovah is clear from the language of Genesis 10:9: "Nimrod, the mighty hunter before the Lord." If that expression be compared with "The earth also [in the days of Noah] was corrupt before God," the impression conveyed is that this "Rebel" pursued his impious and ambitious designs in brazen defiance of the Almighty.
Four times over we find the word mighty connected with Nimrod. First, in Genesis 10:8 it said that "he began to be a mighty one in the earth," which suggests that he struggled for the preeminence, and by force of will and ability obtained it; the "mighty one in the earth" intimates conquest and subjection, becoming a leader and ruler over men. This is confirmed by "the beginning of his kingdom was Babel" (Gen. 10:10), so that he reigned as a king. In the previous verse we are told, "He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord"--the reference probably is to his being a hunter of men. In so brief a description the repetition of those words "mighty hunter before the Lord" are significant. The word for "mighty" is gibbor, and is translated in the Old Testament "chief" and "chieftain." In 1 Chronicles 1:10 we are told, "And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be mighty upon the earth." The Chaldee paraphrase of this verse says, "Cush begat Nimrod, who began to prevail in wickedness, for he slew innocent blood and rebelled against Jehovah."
"And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel" (Gen. 10:10). Here is the key to the first nine verses of chapter 11. In the language of that time "Babel" meant "the gate of God" (see Young's Concordance); but afterwards, because of the divine judgment inflicted there, it came to mean "confusion." By coupling together the various hints which the Holy Spirit has here given us, it seems quite clear that Nimrod organized not only an imperial government over which he presided as king, but that he also introduced a new and idolatrous worship, most probably demanding--under pain of death--that divine honors be paid his own person. As such he was an ominous and striking type of the Antichrist. "Out of that land he went forth into Assyria [margin] , and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah," and so forth (vv. 11, 12). From these statements we gather the impression that Nimrod's ambition was to establish a world empire.
Though Nimrod is not mentioned by name in Genesis 11, it is clear from 10:10 that he was the "chief" and "king" who organized and headed the movement and rebellion there described. "And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." Here is discovered a concerted effort in most blatant defiance of God. He had said, "Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth" (9:1); but Nimrod and his followers deliberately refused to obey that divine command, given through Noah, saying, "Let us make us a name lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."
It is clear from Genesis 10 that Nimrod's ambition was to establish a world empire. To accomplish this, two things were necessary. First, a center of unity, a city-headquarters; and second, a motive for the inspiration and encouragement of his fellows. The first was secured in "the beginning of his kingdom was Babel" (10:9); the second was supplied in the "let us make us a name" (11:4), which intimated an inordinate desire for fame. Nimrod's aim was to keep mankind together under his leadership--"lest we be scattered abroad." The idea suggested by the "tower"--considered in the light of its whole setting--was that of strength, a stronghold; while its name, "the gate of God," tells us that Nimrod was arrogating to himself divine honors. In it all, we may discern Satan's initial attempt to forestall the purpose of God concerning His Christ, by setting up a universal ruler of men of his providing.
The response of heaven was swift and drastic. "And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth" (11:6-9). Once again the human race had been guilty of open apostasy. Therefore did God intervene in judgment, bringing to naught the ambitious scheme of Nimrod, confounding the speech of his subjects, and scattering them abroad on the face of the earth.
The effect of God's intervention was the origination of the different nations and the formation of "the world" as it continued up to the time of Christ. It was then that men were abandoned to their own devices, when God "suffered all nations to walk in their own ways" (Acts 14:16). Then was executed that terrible judicial hardening, when "God also gave them up to uncleanness," when "God gave them up unto vile affections," when "God gave them over to a reprobate mind" (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). Then and thus it was that the way was cleared for the next stage in the outworking of the divine plan of mercy; for where sin had abounded, grace was now to superabound. Having abandoned (temporarily) the nations, God now singled out one man, Abraham, from whom the chosen nation was to spring.
"And therefore will the Lord wait that he may be gracious" (Isa. 30:18)--wait until the most suited time, wait until the stage is prepared for action, wait until there is a fit background for Him to act from; wait, very often, until man's extremity has been reached. "When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son" (Gal. 4:4). Winter's frosts and snows must do their work before vegetation is ready to bud and blossom. As it is in the material creation, so it is in the realm of divine providence. There is a wonderful order in all God's works, an all-wise timing of the divine actions. Not that the Almighty is hampered or hindered by finite creatures of the dust, but that His wondrous ways may be the more admired by those who are granted spirituality to discern them. "Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints" (Rev. 15:3).
Having dealt in judgment at Babel, God was then pleased to manifest His grace. This has ever been, and will ever be, true of all God's dealings. According to His infinite wisdom, judgment (which is God's "strange" work) only serves to prepare the way for a greater and grander outflow of His redeeming love. Having abandoned (temporarily) the nations, God now singled out the man from whom the chosen nation was to spring. Later, God's rejection of Israel resulted in the enriching of the Gentiles. And we may add, that the judgment of the great white throne will be followed by the new heaven and new earth, wherein righteousness shall dwell and upon which the tabernacle of God shall be with men. Thus it was of old: the overthrow of the tower of Babel and the dispersion of Nimrod's impious followers were succeeded by the call of Abraham, through whom, ultimately, the divine blessing should flow to all the families of the earth.
The lesson to be learned here is a deeply important one: the connection between Genesis 11 and 12 is highly significant. The Lord God determined to have a people of His own by the calling of grace, a people which should be taken into privileged nearness unto Himself, and which should show forth His praises; but it was not until all the claims of the natural man had been repudiated by his own wickedness, not until his utter worthlessness had been clearly exhibited, that divine clemency was free to flow forth on an enlarged scale. Sin was suffered to abound in all its hideousness, before grace superabounded in all its blessedness. In other words, it was not until the total depravity of men had been fully demonstrated, first by the ante-diluvians and then again by the concerted apostasy at Babel, that God now dealt with Abraham in sovereign grace and infinite mercy.
That it was grace, grace alone, sovereign grace, which called Abraham to be the friend of God, appears clearly from his natural state and circumstances when the Lord first appeared to him. Abraham belonged not to a pious family where Jehovah was acknowledged and honored; instead his progenitors were idolaters. It seems that once more "all flesh had corrupted his way in the earth." The house from which Abraham sprang was certainly no exception to the rule; for we read, "Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah the father of Abraham and the father of Nachor, and they served other gods" (Josh. 24:2). There was nothing whatever, then, in the object of the divine choice to commend him unto God, nothing in Abraham that merited His esteem. No, the cause of election is always to be traced to the discriminating will of God; for election itself is "of grace" (Rom. 11:5) and therefore it depends in no wise upon any worthiness in the object, either present or foreseen. If it did, it would not be "of grace."
That it was not at all a matter of any goodness or fitness in Abraham which moved the Lord to single him out to be the special object of His high favor is further seen from Isaiah 51:1, 2: "Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you." While it be true that God never acts capriciously or at random, nor arbitrarily--that is, without some wise and good reason for what He does--yet the spring of all His actions is His own sovereign pleasure. The moment we ascribe any of God's exercises unto aught outside of Himself, we are guilty not only of impiety, but of affirming a gross absurdity. The Almighty is infinitely self-sufficient, and can no more be swayed by the creatures of His own hand, than an entity can be influenced by nonentities. Oh, how vastly different is the Deity of Holy Writ from the "God" which present-day Christendom dreams about!
"The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran. And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I will shew thee" (Acts 7:2, 3). The divine title employed here is a remarkable one, for we regard it as intimating that the shekinah itself was manifested before Abraham's wondering gaze. God always suits the revelation which He makes of Himself according to the effect which is to be produced. Here was a man in the midst of a heathen city, brought up in an idolatrous home. Something vivid and striking, supernatural and unmistakable, was required in order to suddenly change the whole course of his life. "The God of glory"--in blessed and awesome contrast from the "other gods" of his sires--"appeared unto our father Abraham." It was probably the first of the theophanic manifestations, for we never read of God appearing to Abel or Noah.
If our conclusion be correct that this was the earliest of all the theophanic manifestations (God appearing in human form: cf. Gen. 32:24; Josh. 5:13, 14; etc.) that we read of in the Old Testament, which anticipated the incarnation itself, as well as marked the successive revelations of God to men; and if this theophany was accompanied by the resplendent glory and majesty of the shekinah, then great indeed was the privilege now conferred upon the son of Terah. Nothing in him could possibly have merited such an amazing display of divine grace. The Lord was here "found" of one that "sought him not" (Isa. 65:1), as is the case with each of all those who are made the recipients of His everlasting blessing; for "there is none that seeketh after God" (Rom. 3:11). It is not the lost sheep which seeks the Shepherd, but the Shepherd who goes after it, and reveals Himself unto it in all His love and grace.
God said unto Abraham: "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I will show thee." Those were the terms of the divine communication originally received by our patriarch. This command from the Most High came to Abraham in Mesopotamia, in the city of Ur of the Chaldeans, which was situated near the Persian Gulf. It was a call which demanded absolute confidence in and full obedience to the word of Jehovah. It was a call for definite separation from the world. But it was far more than a bare command issuing from the divine authority: it was an effectual call which demonstrated the efficacy of divine grace. In other words, it was a call accompanied by the divine power, which wrought mightily in the object of it. This is a distinction which is generally lost sight of today: there are two kinds of the divine call mentioned in Scripture, the one which falls only on the outward ear and produces no definite effect; the other which reaches the heart, and moves unto a real response.
The first of these calls is found in such passages as, "Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of men" (Prov. 8:4), and "For many be called" (Matthew 20:16). It reaches all who come under the sound of God's Word. It is a call which presses upon the creature the claims of God, and the call of the gospel, which reveals the requirements of the Mediator. This call is universally unheeded: it is unpalatable to fallen human nature, and is rejected by the unregenerate: "I have called, and ye refused" (Prow. 1:24); "And they all with one consent began to make excuse" (Luke 14:18). The second of these calls is found in such passages as "Whom he called, them he also justified" (Rom. 8:30); "Called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9).
The first call is general; the second, particular. The first is to all who come under the sound of the Word; the second is made only to the elect, bringing them from death unto life. The first makes manifest the enmity of the carnal mind against God; the second reveals the grace of God toward His own. It is by the effect produced that we are able to distinguish between them. "He calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice" (John 10:3, 4)--follow the example which He has left them (1 Pet. 2:21). They follow Him along the path of self-denial, of obedience, of living to the glory of God. Here, then, is the grand effect wrought upon the soul when it receives the effectual call of God: the under standing is illuminated, the conscience is convicted, the hard heart is melted, the stubborn will is conquered, the affections are drawn out unto Him who before was despised.
Such an effect as we have just described is supernatural: it is a miracle of divine grace. The proud Pharisee is humbled into the dust; the stout-hearted rebel is brought into subjection; the lover of pleasure is now made a lover of God. He who before kicked defiantly against the pricks, bows submissively and cries, "Lord, what wouldest Thou have me to do?" But let it be said emphatically, nothing but the immediate power of God working upon the heart can produce such a blessed transformation. Neither financial losses, family bereavements, nor a dangerous illness can effect it. Nothing external will suffice to change the depraved heart of fallen man. He may listen to the most faithful sermons, the most solemn warnings, the most win some invitations, and he will remain unmoved, untouched, unless the Spirit of God is pleased to first quicken him into newness of life. Those who are spiritually dead can neither hear, see, nor feel spiritually.
Now it is this effectual call that Abraham was the subject of when Jehovah suddenly appeared to him in Ur of Chaldea. This is evident from the effect produced in him. He was bidden to "get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I will show thee" (Acts 7:3). Think of what that involved: to forsake the land of his birth, to sever the nearest and dearest of all natural ties, to make a complete break with his old manner of life, and step out on what appeared to carnal reason to be an uncertain venture. What was his response? "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went" (Heb. 11:8). Ah, my reader, that can only be satisfactorily accounted for in one way: almighty power had wrought within him; invincible grace had conquered his heart.
Before proceeding further, let us pause and take stock of our own souls. Have we experienced anything which at all corresponds to this radical change in the life of Abraham? Have you, have I, been made the subjects of a divine call which has produced a right-about-face in our lives? Have we been the subjects of a divine miracle, so that grace has wrought effectually upon our hearts? Have we heard something more than the language of Scripture falling upon our outward ears? Have we heard God Himself speaking in the most secret recess of our souls, so that it may be said, "The gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance" (1 Thess. 1:5)? Can it be said of us, "The word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe" (1 Thess. 2:13)? Is the Word working effectually in us, so as to govern our inner and outer man, so as to produce an obedient walk, and issue in fruit to God's glory?
Though the response made by Abraham to the call which he had received from the Lord clearly demonstrated that a miracle of divine grace had been wrought within him, nevertheless, God suffered sufficient of the "flesh" to appear in him so as to evidence that he was still a sinful and failing creature. While regeneration is indeed a wonderful and blessed experience, yet it is only the beginning of God's "good work" in the soul (Phil. 1:6), and requires His further operations of sanctification to carry it forward to completion. Though a new nature is imparted when the soul is brought from death unto life, the old nature is not removed; though the principle of holiness is communicated, the principle of sin is neither annihilated nor exterminated. Consequently, there is not only a continual conflict produced by these contrary principles, but their presence and exercise prevent the soul from fully attaining its desires and doing as it would (Gal. 5:17).
Abraham's obedience to the divine command was both partial and tardy. God had bidden him to leave his own country, separate from his kindred, and "come into the land" which He would show him (Acts 7:3). His failure is recorded in Genesis 11:31: "And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there." He left Chaldea; but instead of leaving behind his kindred, his father and nephew accompanied him. This was the more excuseless because Isaiah 51:2 expressly declares that God had called Abraham "alone." It is significant to note that the word "Terah" means "delay," and such his presence occasioned Abraham, for instead of entering the land of Canaan at once, he stopped short at Haran, and there he remained for five years until Terah died (Gen. 11:32; 12:4, 5).
And why did the Lord suffer the "flesh" in Abraham to mar his obedience? To indicate to his spiritual children that absolute perfection of character and conduct is not attainable in this life. We do not call attention to this fact so as to encourage loose living or to lower the exalted standard at which we must ever aim, but to cheer those who are discouraged because their honest and ardent efforts after godliness so often fall below that standard. Again; there is only One who has walked this earth in perfect obedience to God in thought and word and deed, and that not occasionally, but constantly and uninterruptedly; and He must "have the pre-eminence in all things." Therefore God will not suffer Christ's glory to be reduced by fashioning others to honor Him as He did. Finally, God's permitting the flesh to exist and be active in Abraham further magnified the divine grace, by making it still further manifest that it was through no excellency in him that he had been called.
"Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Haran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land" (Acts 7:4). Though God had suffered the flesh in Abraham to mar his obedience, yet He would not allow it to completely triumph. Divine grace is not only magnified by the unworthiness of its object, but it is glorified in triumphing over the flesh and producing what is contrary thereto. The hindrance to Abraham's obedience was removed, and now we see him actually entering the place to which God had called him.
The first thing recorded of Abraham after he had actually entered the land of Canaan is the Lord's appearing unto him and his building an altar: "And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord" (Gen. 12:6, 7). There are several details here which claim our attention.
1. Abraham did not settle down and enter into possession of the land, but "passed through it," as Acts 7:5 tells us: "And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set foot on."
2. The presence there of "the Canaanite"--to challenge and contest the possession of it. So it is with the believer: the flesh, the devil, and the world unite in opposing his present enjoyment of the inheritance unto which he has been begotten; while hosts of wicked spirits in the heavenlies wrestle with those who are partakers of the heavenly calling (Eph. 6:12).
3. "The Lord appeared unto Abram." He had done so originally as the "God of glory," when He revealed Himself to the patriarch in Chaldea. There is no intimation of Abraham receiving any further revelation from God during his delay at Haran; but now that God's call had been fully obeyed, he was favored with a fresh manifestation of Him.
And now Abraham's obedience is rewarded. At the beginning the Lord had said, "Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee" (Gen. 12:1); now He declared, "Unto thy seed will I give this land" (v. 7). This brings before us a most important principle in the ways of God, which has often been lost sight of by men who only stress one side of the truth. That principle is that divine grace never sets aside the requirements of divine righteousness. God never shows mercy at the expense of His holiness.
God is "light" as well as "love," and each of these divine perfections is exemplified in all His dealings with His people. Moreover, in the exercise of His sovereignty God never enforces the responsibility of the creature; and unless we keep both of these steadily in view, we not only become lopsided, but lapse into real error. The grace of God must not be magnified to the beclouding of His righteousness, nor His sovereignty pressed to the exclusion of human accountability. The balance can only be preserved by our faithfully adhering to Scripture. If we single out favorite verses and ignore those which are unpalatable to the flesh, we are guilty of handling the Word of God deceitfully, and fall under the condemnation of "according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law" (Mal. 2:9). The principles of law and gospel are not contradictory, but supplementary, and neither can be dispensed with except to our irreparable loss.
What has been pointed out above supplies the keys to a right understanding of the Abrahamic covenant; and unless those dual principles be steadily kept before us in our contemplation of the same, we are certain to err. Some writers when referring to the Abrahamic covenant speak of it as "a covenant of pure grace," and such it truly was; for what was there about Abraham to move the God of glory to so much as notice him? Nevertheless, it would be equally correct to designate the Abrahamic covenant "a covenant of righteousness," for it exemplified the principles of the divine government as actually as it made manifest the benignity of the divine character. Other writers have referred to the Abrahamic covenant as an "unconditional one," but in this they erred, for to talk of "an unconditional covenant" is a flat contradiction in terms. Suffer us to quote here from our first chapter:
"Let us point out the nature of a covenant; in what it consists. 'An absolute complete covenant is a voluntary convention, pact, or agreement between distinct persons, about the ordering and dispensing of things in their power, unto their mutual concern and advantage' (J. Owen). Blackstone, the great commentator upon English law, speaking of the parts of a deed, says, 'After warrants, usually follow covenants, or conventions, which are clauses of agreement, contained in a deed, whereby either party may stipulate for the truth of certain facts, or may bind himself to perform, or give something to the other' (Vol. 2, p. 20). So he includes three things: the parties, the terms, the binding agreement. Reducing it to still simpler language, we may say that a covenant is the entering into of a mutual agreement, a benefit being assured on the fulfillment of certain conditions."
We supplement by a quotation from H. Witsius: "The covenant does, on the part of God, comprise three things in general. 1st. A promise of consummate happiness in eternal life. 2nd. A designation or prescription of the condition, by the performance of which, man acquires a right to the promise. 3rd. A penal sanction against those who do not come up to the prescribed condition. . . .Man becomes the other party when he consents thereto: embracing the good promised by God, engaging to an exact observance of the condition required; and upon the violation thereof, voluntarily owning himself obnoxious to the threatened curse."
Let it now be pointed out that in this chapter we are turning to another side of the subject from what we have mainly dwelt upon in the previous ones. In those we amplified what we said in the fourth and fifth paragraphs of the second chapter. Having dwelt so largely upon the divine sovereignty and grace aspects, we need to weigh carefully the divine righteousness and human responsibility elements. Having shown how the various covenants which God made with men adumbrated the central features in the everlasting covenant which He made with Christ, we are now required to consider how that in them God maintained the claims of His righteousness by what He required from the responsible agents with whom He dealt. It was not until after Noah "did according to all that God commanded him" (Gen. 6:22) by preparing an ark "to the saving of his house" (Heb. 11:7), that God confirmed His "with thee will I establish my covenant" (Gen. 6:18) by "I establish my covenant" (9:9). Noah having fulfilled the divine stipulations, God was now prepared to fulfill His promises.
The same thing is clearly seen again in connection with Abraham. There is no hint in Scripture that the Lord entered into any covenant with him while he was in Ur of Chaldea. Instead, the land of Canaan was then set before him provisionally: "The Lord said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee" (Gen. 12:1). The order there is unmistakably plain. First, God acted in grace, sovereign grace, by singling out Abraham from his idolatrous neighbors, and by calling him to something far better. Second, God made known the requirements of His righteousness and enforced Abraham's responsibility by the demand there made upon him. Third, the promised reward was to follow Abraham's response to God's call. These three things are conjoined in Heb. 11:8: "By faith Abraham, when he was called [by divine grace] to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance [the reward], obeyed [the discharge of his responsibility]; and he went out, not knowing whither he went."
Nor does what has just been said in anywise conflict with what was pointed out in previous chapters. The above elements just as truly shadowed forth another fundamental aspect of the everlasting covenant as did the different features singled out from the Adamic and the Noahic. In the everlasting covenant, God promised a certain reward unto Christ upon His fulfilling certain conditions--executing the appointed work. The inseparable principles of law and gospel, grace and reward, faith and works, were most expressly conjoined in that compact which God entered into with the Mediator before the foundation of the world. Therein we may behold the "manifold wisdom of God" in combining such apparent opposites; and instead of carping at their seeming hostility, we should admire the omniscience which has made the one the handmaid of the other. Only then are we prepared to discern and recognize the exercise of this dual principle in each of the subordinate covenants.
Not a few writers supposed they magnified the grace of God and honored the Mediator when affirming that Christ Himself so fulfilled the conditions of the covenant and so met every requirement of God's righteousness that His people have been entirely freed of all legal obligations, and that nothing whatever is left for them to do but express their gratitude in lives well-pleasing to Him. It is far easier to make this mistake than it is to expose it. It is true, blessedly true, gloriously true, that Christ did perfectly discharge His covenant engagements, magnified the law and made it honorable, that God received from Him a full satisfaction for all the sins of His people. Yet that does not mean that the law has been repealed, that God rescinds His righteous claims upon the creature, or that believers are placed in a position of privilege from which obligation is excluded; nor does it involve the idea that saints are freed from covenant duties. Grace reigns, but it reigns "through righteousness" (Rom. 5:21) and not at the expense of it.
Christ's obedience has not rendered ours unnecessary: rather has it rendered ours acceptable. In that sentence lies the solution to the difficulty. The law of God will accept nothing short of perfect and perpetual obedience; and such obedience the Surety of God's people rendered, so that He brought in an everlasting righteousness which is reckoned to their account. Yet that is only one half of the truth on this subject. The other half is not that Christ's atonement has inaugurated a regime of lawlessness or license, but rather has it placed its beneficiaries under additional obligations. But more: it had procured the needed grace to enable those beneficiaries to discharge their obligations--not perfectly, but nevertheless, acceptably to God. And how? By securing that the Holy Spirit should bring them from death unto life, impart to them a nature which delights in the law, and work in them both to will and to do of God's good pleasure. And what is God's good pleasure for His people? The same as it was for His incarnate Son: to be perfectly conformed to the law in thought and word and deed.
God has one and the same standard for the head and the members of His church; and therefore we are told, "he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked" (1 John 2:6). In 1 Peter 2:21 we read, "Christ also suffered for us." With what end in view? That we might be relieved from all obligation to God? That we might pursue a course of lawlessness under the pretense of magnifying "grace"? No, indeed; but rather "leaving us an example that ye should follow his steps." And what is the nature of that example which Christ has left us? What, but "fulfilling the law" (Matthew 5:17), loving the Lord His God with all His heart and mind and strength, and His neighbor as Himself? But in order to do this there must be a nature in harmony with the law and not enmity against it. Could Christ declare, "I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart" (Ps. 40:8), so can each of His redeemed and regenerated people say, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man," (Rom. 7:22). And were there nothing else in them but the new man they would render perfect obedience to the law. Such is their honest desire, but the presence of the old man thwarts them.
The everlasting covenant was, in its nature and contents, a mixed one, for the principles of both law and grace were operative therein. It was grace pure and simple which ordained that any from Adam's fallen race should be saved, as it was amazing and infinite grace that provided the Son of God should become incarnate and serve as their surety. But it was law pure and simple that the Surety should earn and purchase their salvation by His rendering unto God a perfect satisfaction on their behalf. Christ was "made under the law" (Gal. 4:4). His whole life was perfectly conformed to the precepts of the law, and His death was an enduring of the penalty of the law; and all of this was in fulfillment of His covenant engagements. In like manner, these two principles of grace and law are operative in connection with the administration of the everlasting covenant--that is, in the application of its benefits to those on whose behalf Christ transacted. "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law" (Rom. 3:31).
The work of Christ has released the believer from the law as a procuring cause of his justification, but it has in nowise abolished it as his rule of life. Divine grace does not set aside its recipient's responsibility, nor does the believer's obedience render grace any the less necessary. God requires obedience (conformity to His law) from the Christian as truly as He does from the non-Christian. True, we are not saved for (because of) our obedience; yet it is equally true that we cannot be saved without it. Unless Noah had heeded God and built the ark, he had perished in the Flood; yet it was by the goodness and power of God that the ark was preserved. It is through Christ, and Christ alone, that the believer's obedience is acceptable to God. But it may be asked, Will God accept an imperfect obedience from us? The answer is yes, if it be sincere; just as He is pleased to answer our poor prayers when presented in the all--meritorious name of His Son.
Once again we would point out that any covenant necessarily signifies a mutual agreement, with terms to be carried out by both parties. A vivid but most solemn example of this is found in the case of Judas and the chief priests of the Jews, concerning whom we read: "they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver" (Matthew 26:15). That is to say, in return for his fulfilling the contract to betray his Master into their hands, they would pay him this sum of money, which, in Acts 1:18, is denominated "the reward of iniquity." It is only by paying close attention to all the expressions used in Scripture of God's covenant and of our relation thereto, that we can obtain a right and full conception thereof. We read of those "that take hold of my covenant" (Isa. 56:4, 6); "that thou shouldest enter into covenant with the Lord thy God" (Dent. 23:12); "those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice" (Ps. 50:5); "mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies" (Ps. 25:10); "be ye mindful always of his covenant" (1 Chron. 16:15); "Ye break my covenant" (Lev. 26:15); "them that forsake the holy covenant" (Dan. 11:30).
Against what has been said above, it may be objected that this reduces the covenant of grace to one and the same level with the covenant of works. Not so, we reply; for though those covenants have something in common, yet there is a real and radical difference between them. Each of them maintains the claims of God's righteousness by enforcing the requirements of the law, but the covenant of works had no mediator, nor was any provision made for those who failed under it; whereas the covenant of grace supplies both. Moreover, under the covenant of works obedience was rendered unto an absolute God, whereas under the covenant of grace it is given to God in Christ, and there is a world of difference between those two things. The application of these principles to the case of Abraham we must consider next.
In the application unto Abraham of those divine principles considered in the preceding chapter, it should be quite obvious that the law of his obedience was attended with both promises and threatenings, rewards and punishments, suited unto the goodness and holiness of God, and fitted for the discharge of his moral responsibility. It may be asked, Where is there any hint in Scripture of any provisos and terms attached to the Abrahamic covenant, or any clear statement that God stipulated any terms to him? Such a question is capable of several answers. In the first place, unless there were such provisos and terms, no covenant had been made at all. Second, the extreme brevity of the Genesis account must be borne in mind; and instead of expecting a full categorical statement, its fragmentary details need to be carefully pieced together. Third, Genesis 12:1 shows plainly that Canaan was first set before him provisionally.
In addition to what has just been said, we would point out what the Lord declared in connection with the sign and seal of this covenant: "the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people: he hath broken my covenant" (Gen. 17:14). Here, then, it is clear that a condition was stipulated, the failure to meet which broke the covenant. Again, in Genesis 18:19 we find God saying, "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that [in order that] the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." Abraham had to "keep the way of the Lord," which is defined as "to do justice and judgment"; that is, walk obediently, in subjection to God's revealed will, if he was to receive the fulfillment of the divine promises. Once more, we read "Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws" (Gen. 26:5). Thus, while God dealt with Abraham in pure grace, it is plain that he was also placed under the law.
Some readers are likely to object, This is a wretched subversion of the glorious covenant of grace: by your "conditions," "terms," and "provisos" you reduce it to a contingency and uncertainty, instead of its being "ordered in all things and sure. "Our first rejoinder is that we have not introduced the conditions and provisos into the covenant; instead, they are so stated in Scripture. God did not make an absolute grant of Canaan unto Abraham when He first revealed Himself to him in Chaldea. Rather was he required to tread the path of obedience unto that land "which he should after receive for an inheritance." Nor does God make an absolute (or unconditional) grant of heaven when the sinner first believes in Christ. Instead, He requires him to walk the narrow way which alone leadeth unto life, and faithfully warns him that it is to his imminent peril if he converges therefrom.
It may be replied, But this is to leave all at an uncertainty. It all depends upon the angle from which you view it. Considered as the object of God's everlasting love, as chosen in Christ, as redeemed by Him, as indwelt and sealed by the Spirit, the believer's safely reaching heaven is placed beyond all peradventure. But consider the believer as a responsible agent, as still having the "flesh" in him, living in a world where he is beset by temptation on every side, called upon to "fight the good fight of faith" and to "lay hold on eternal life," and the matter appears in quite another light; and the one viewpoint is just as real and actual as is the other! The difficulty here as to whether or not the believer's "keeping" or "breaking" the covenant renders all insecure, is precisely the same as showing the consistency between divine preservation and Christian perseverance. Though the "ifs" of John 8:31 and Colossians 1:23 do not annul the promise of Philippians 1:6, nevertheless, they are there, and must be taken into account by us.
From the divine side, the covenant of grace is "ordered in all things and sure." There is not the slightest possibility of anything in it failing. Christ will "see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied," and not one of those given to Him by the Father before the foundation of the world will be lost. But that does not alter the fact that while the elect are left here in this world they are bidden to "make their calling and election sure" (2 Pet. 1:10), "if they may apprehend [lay hold of] that for which also they were apprehended of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12). The covenant has provided for the communication of effectual grace to secure the saints' obedience and perseverance; yet that does not alter the fact that God still enforces His righteous claims upon them and deals with them as moral agents who are required to heed His warnings, obey His precepts, and use the means He has appointed for their preservation.
Some experience difficulty in fitting together those Scriptures which present eternal life as the present and inalienable possession of the believer with other passages that place it in the future and as only being attained unto by following a course of self-denial. Such verses as John 5:24 and Romans 6:23 are quite simple to them; but Romans 6:22; 8:13; Galatians 6:8; and Jude 21 they are at a loss to know what to do with. But there is nothing inconsistent between a believer acting from a principle of grace and life already communicated to him by the Holy Spirit, and his so acting that he may live. A man must be alive before he can eat; yet he must eat in order that he may live. Were he to cease entirely from the taking of food, would there be any life for him in a month's time? Neither would the Christian enter heaven if he entirely neglected the means of grace appointed for his spiritual preservation.
Of old, Moses said unto Israel, "The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live" (Deut. 30:6). Was he, then, inconsistent when, at the close of the same address, he declared: "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: For he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them" (vv. 19, 20)? Was Moses there setting before them a "yea and nay gospel"? Emphatically, no; for he was the mouthpiece of Jehovah Himself. Nor was this appeal a "legal" one, but a strictly "evangelical" one. Alas, that so many today err, "not knowing the Scriptures." "Know therefore that the Lord thy God, He is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations"--not merely from Moses till Christ (Deut. 7:9)--yes, and with no others. This verse is just as much a part of the holy and inspired Word of God as is Ephesians 2:8, 9; and the one is needed by us as much as the other.
It might be objected, This is bringing in a legalistic inducement and inculcating a mercenary spirit to put the believer upon using means in order to obtain his preservation, and setting before him heaven or eternal life as a reward for his faithfulness. In reply, let us quote from the renowned and evangelical Dutch theologian: "A mercenary baseness is certainly unworthy of the high-born sons of God, but their heavenly Father does not forbid them to have any regard to their own advantage in the exercise of holiness. David himself confesseth that, the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. 'By them is Thy servant warned, and in keeping of them there is great reward' (Ps. 19:9, 11). And the faith of Moses is commended because 'he had respect unto the recompense of the reward' (Heb. 11:26). Yea, that faith is required of all who come to God, that they 'must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him'--Heb. 11:6" (from Irenicon, by H. Witsius, 1696).
To anticipate one more objection--not with any expectation of convincing the carping critic, but rather in the hope of helping some who are in a state of bewilderment from the one-sided teaching of our unhappy day--But does not all of the above inculcate the principle of human merit? No, for it is due alone to divine grace that the believer has had communicated to him a principle of obedience--a heart or nature which desires to please God. Furthermore, it is solely for Christ's sake that God so liberally rewards the sincere endeavors of His people, for apart from the Mediator and His merits, they could not be accepted by Him. Finally, there is no proportion whatever between the Christian's obedience and the reward he receives--the inheritance infinitely exceeding his poor efforts--any more than there was in God's giving Canaan to Abraham and his seed because he left Chaldea.
Coming closer now to our immediate theme, it should be pointed out that the Abrahamic covenant is not to be regarded as a thing apart, having no direct connection with what went before or what followed it; but rather is it to be viewed as a part of and a further step in the unfolding unto God's people of His eternal counsels. The call of Abraham was a most important step in the outworking of God's purpose. It was one of those remarkable epochs in the history of the church which produced a new order of things, in perfect keeping with, yet greatly in advance of, what had previously been communicated. The work of preparation for the appearance of the Messiah now assumed a more tangible form and entered on a phase bearing more visibly upon the attainment of the ultimate result. The line from which the promised Seed was to spring was now more definitely defined, while the scope of divine grace was more clearly revealed.
The declaration made by the Lord God in Eden after Adam's transgression, that the Seed of the woman should triumph over and destroy the serpent, had been the ground of the saints' faith and the object of their hope during the first two thousand years' history of the world. Until the time of Abraham, nothing more had been revealed concerning the person of the coming deliverer (so far as Scripture records) than that He was to be of the human race; but of what particular family, or even of which nation, no one was informed. Where men were to look for Him, whether in Egypt, in Babylon, or in some other land, did not yet transpire. But in the covenant which God made with Abraham, not only was the promise of a Savior renewed, but His family and place were now made known. For this great honor the "friend of God" was selected: to him it was revealed that the Messiah should spring from his stock, and that the land of Canaan would be the scene of His glorious mission.
Not only should the Abrahamic covenant be regarded as part of a greater whole rather than an isolated transaction, but attention must not be restricted to any single episode in the patriarch's life or God's dealings with him. We fully agree with John Kelly when he said, "If we would form an accurate estimate of that covenant, and of the truth which it was the means of revealing, we must not confine ourselves to any one particular transaction in which allusion is made to it, however important that transaction may have been. Our examination must embrace all the incidents recorded. We must bear in mind that everything that occurred to Abraham, from his call to the close of his life, was intended to explain and illustrate the nature of the Covenant."
It was not by one specific communication that the mind of God was fully disclosed unto Abraham. Several were made at different times, all relating to the same subject and unfolding the import of the covenant; while the character of Abraham himself--shaped by the various trials through which he was called to pass and molded by grace through faith--throws important light upon the conceptions which he entertained of what had been revealed to him. All these form one homogeneous whole; and from them, thus considered, we are to form our views of the covenant. When Abraham was first called by the Lord, a bare hint was given him of the divine purpose, which, under the Spirit's blessing, was the means of quickening his faith and producing the decision which he made. Yet only a glimpse was then afforded him of what God designed: it was not the formal establishment of the covenant. That event took place subsequently, after an interval of some years.
What has just been said appears to receive confirmation from Galatians 3:16, 17: "Now to Abraham and his seed was the promise made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect." "Four hundred and thirty years" prior to the giving of the law at Sinai takes us back to the beginning of God's dealings with Abraham, recorded in Genesis 12, though the actual term covenant is not found in that chapter. It is not until we reach Genesis 15:18 that we find the transaction itself: "In that same day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land." Then in Genesis 17 we find the sign and seal of the covenant--circumcision--given. To the covenant there are other references in the chapters which follow: in Genesis 22 the covenant is confirmed. Thus, in fact, the covenant received important and successive enlargements during the intercourse which God, in infinite condescension, continued to have with His servant. Hebrews 6:13-18 links together the great promise of Genesis 12:3 and the oath of Genesis 22:15-18.
In our endeavor, then, to obtain a correct and comprehensive view of the divine transaction in the Abrahamic covenant, we are required to carefully examine all the information which the Genesis narrative supplies: the leading events in Abraham's own life (which are designed as a contribution for imparting an explanation), and the light which the New Testament casts upon them both, and regard all in its entire unity as illustrative of the covenant. To confine ourselves to one passage, however important it may seem to be, would be doing injustice to the subject. It is failure at this point which has resulted in so many superficial, inadequate, and one-sided discussions of the same by various writers. Those who approach the examination and consideration of the Abrahamic covenant (or any other Scriptural theme) with a single pet theory or idea in their minds, which they are determined to establish at all costs, cannot expect to obtain a right and full view of the covenant as a whole.
We shall, then, regard the Abrahamic covenant as a striking advance in the development of God's gracious purpose toward men, and yet as only a part of a greater and grander whole. In so doing, what will claim our special attention is, What was the particular nature and what the amount of the truth, which it was the means of revealing? Upon these points a very wide diversity of opinion obtains, both among the older and more recent writers. Exactly what did the Abrahamic covenant make manifest to the minds and hearts of God's people of old? And how far does the same apply to us now? The proper answers to these questions must be drawn from Holy Writ itself, fairly interpreted. Perhaps our best course is to single out the leading particulars, and then comment thereon as each may seem to require.
"Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:1-3). In this simple narrative we have the original promise made to Abraham that the Messiah should come of his family. This divine pledge was made to the patriarch when he was only a little short of seventy-five years of age. It was given at a point in human history halfway between the creation of the first Adam and the incarnation of the last Adam that is, two thousand years after the entrance of sin into the world and two thousand years before the advent of the Savior.
The first great purpose of the Abrahamic covenant was to make known the stock from which the Messiah was to spring. This was the most prominent aspect of truth revealed in it: the appearing of the promised Seed in Abraham's own line. The primary intimation of this was given to the patriarch when God first appeared to him: "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed." Two things are to be noted in the language there used. First, the "all families of the earth be blessed" obviously looks back to Genesis 3:17, for the "all families" was sufficiently definite to announce the international scope of the blessing. It is indeed very striking to observe that in Genesis 12:3 God did not use the word eretz (as in Gen. 1:1; 14:19; 18:25, etc.), but adamah (as in Gen. 3:17). The manifest link between "Cursed is the ground" (Gen. 3:17) would have been made more evident had Genesis 12:3 been rendered "in thee shall all families of the ground be blessed"--the curse was to be removed by Christ!
Second, the terms of this Messianic intimation were quite general in their character. Later, this original promise was repeated in more specific form: the "in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" being defined as "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." This illustrates an important principle which tray be discerned throughout the divine revelation, namely, that of progressive unfolding: "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear" (Mark 4:28). This is evident here by a comparison of the far-reaching promises made to Abraham with the prophecies of Noah concerning his three sons. Jehovah was the God of Shem, yet Japheth should dwell in his tents (Gen. 9:26, 27); now He becomes known as "the God of Abraham," but all families of the ground should be blessed in him and his seed. What a striking advance was here made in the divine plan, by revealing the breadth of its meaning and the explicitness of its purpose!
"By his call Abraham was raised to a very singular pre-eminence and constituted in a manner the root and center of the world's future history, as concerned the attainment of real blessing. Still, even in that respect, not exclusively. The blessing was to come chiefly to Abraham, and through him; but, as already indicated in the prophecy on Shem, others were to stand, though in a subordinate rank, on the same line--since those also were to be blessed who blessed him; that is, who held substantially the same faith, and occupied the same friendly relation to God. The cases of such persons in the patriarch's own day, as his kinsman Lot, who was not formally admitted into Abraham's covenant, and still more of Melchizedek, who was not even of Abraham's line and yet individually stood in some sense higher than Abraham himself, clearly showed, and were no doubt partly raised up for the purpose of showing, that there was nothing arbitrary in Abraham's position, and that the ground he occupied was to a certain extent common to believers generally.
"The peculiar honour conceded to him was, that the great trunk of blessing was to be of him, while only some isolated twigs or scattered branches were to be found elsewhere; and even these could only be found by persons coming, in a manner, to make common cause with him. In regard to himself, however, the large dowry of good conveyed to him in the Divine promise could manifestly not be realized through him personally. There could at the most be but a beginning made in his own experience and history: and the widening of the circle of blessing to other kindreds and regions, till it reached to the most distant families of the earth, must necessarily be affected by means of those who were to spring from him. Hence the original word of promise 'In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed,' was afterwards changed into 'In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed' "(P. Fairbairn).
It needs pointing out, though, that each of those expressions had its own specific significance and importance, and that they must be conjoined so as to bring out the full design of God in the calling of Abraham. The promised blessing was to be wrought out in its widest sense not by Abraham individually and immediately, but through him mediately, by means of the seed that should be given to him. This clearly implied that that seed must possess far higher qualities than any to be found in Abraham himself, since blessing from it would flow out so widely; yea, it only thinly veiled the truth that there should be a wondrous commingling of the divine with the human. Christ, then, as the essential kernel of the promise and the Seed of Abraham, rather than Abraham himself, was to have the honor of blessing all nations.
But what we have just called attention to by no means evacuates the force of the original "in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed"; for by so definitely connecting the good with Abraham himself as well as with his seed, the organic connection was marked between the one and the other. "The blessing to be brought to the world through his line had even in his time a present though small realization--precisely as the kingdom of Christ had its commencement in that of David, and the one ultimately merged into the other. And so, in Abraham as the living root of all that was to follow, the whole and every part may be said to take its rise" (P. Fairbairn). Not only was Christ after the flesh "the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1), but every believer in Christ is of Abraham's seed (Gal. 3:29); and the entire company of the redeemed shall have their place and portion "with Abraham" in the kingdom of God (Matthew 8:11).
Other promises followed, such as "unto thy seed will I give this land" (Gen. 12:7), "to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee" (Gen. 17:7), and so forth, which we shall consider later. That which immediately concerns us is the meaning of the term "seed" in these passages. The Scripture which throws the most light thereon is Galatians 3:16, 17: "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect." Yet strange to say, this passage has occasioned the commentators much trouble, no two of them agreeing in its interpretation. It is commonly regarded as one of the most abstruse passages in all the Pauline Epistles.
Matthew Henry says, "The covenant is made with Abraham and his Seed. And he (the apostle) gives us a very surprising exposition of that," but he attempts no detailed interpretation at all. J. N. Darby seeks to cut the knot by changing the apostle's "promises" to "the promise," restricting the reference to Genesis 22. Yet not only is the Greek in the plural number, but such an idea is plainly refuted by the "four hundred and thirty years after," which necessarily carries us back to Genesis 12. Albert Barnes discusses at great length what he terms "the perplexities of this very difficult passage of Scripture." But as usual, the commentators have created their own difficulties: partly by failing to take into full account the immediate context, and partly through a slavish adherence to "the letter," thereby missing the "spirit" of the verse.
"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made." Abraham was the "father" of a twofold "seed," a natural and a spiritual; and if we attend unto the context here, there is not the slightest difficulty in determining which of them the Holy Spirit has in view. In verse 6 He had said, "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness"; from which the conclusion is drawn, "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham" (v. 7). What could be plainer than that? They which are "of faith," genuine believers, are "the children of Abraham": that is, his spiritual children--he being their "father" as the pattern to which they are conformed. In other words, sinners today are justified by God in precisely the same way as Abraham was--by faith.
"And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen [Gentiles] through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham: In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham" (Gal. 3:8, 9). The same truth is here reaffirmed. In view of God's purpose to justify Gentiles by faith, He proclaimed that gospel to Abraham himself, saying, "In thee shall all nations be blessed." Let it be carefully noted that the Holy Spirit here quotes from Genesis 12, and not from Genesis 22. The same conclusion is again drawn: believers receive the identical spiritual blessing that Abraham did, namely, the righteousness of Christ imputed to their account, so that they now measure up to every requirement of the law. And that, because "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (v. 13); this having opened the way "that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (v. 14).
"Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto" (Gal. 3:15). But in the case before us we have far more than "a man's covenant"--we have a divine covenant, for God solemnly ratified His promises to Abraham by covenant. "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made" (v. 16). Now in the light of "the children of Abraham" (v. 7), "they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham" (v. 9), and "that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ" (v. 14), "to Abraham and his seed" must mean "to Abraham and his spiritual seed were the promises made." Collateral proof of this is supplied by Romans 4:16, "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace, to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all"; for it is only all of his spiritual seed who are assured of the blessings promised.
"He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Gal. 3:16). This is the clause which many have found so perplexing. They have pointed out that, both in the Old Testament and the New, the term "seed" often refers to descendants without limitation, just as the word posterity does with us. Furthermore, it is a fact, which a use of the concordance will amply confirm, that this term "seed" is never used in the plural at all to denote a posterity, the singular form being constantly employed for that purpose; indeed the plural form of the word never occurs except here in Galatians 3:16. This presents a problem for which no literalist can supply any satisfactory solution, which plainly intimates that it was not with the surface meaning of the term the apostle was here treating.
"The force of his reasoning here depends not on the mere dictionary word 'seed,' but upon the great scriptural idea which, more and more clearly in Old Testament revelation, becomes manifested through that word--the idea of an individual person, who should sum up in Himself the covenant people as well as (for them) the covenant blessings, that is, the promised Messiah, Christ" (Jas. MacGregor, on Galatians, 1879). This is the only writer we are acquainted with who has indicated the direction in which we must look for the true explanation of the apostle's terms, namely, not in their merely literal signification, but in the spiritual concept which they embodied--just as the term "christ" literally signifies "anointed," but is employed as the special title of the Savior, and is given to Him not as a private but public person, including both the Head and members of the church (1 Cor. 12:12).
"He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ." To sum up. The promises of God were never by human procreation, the other by divine regeneration. But the promises were not made to both of his seeds, but to one of them only, namely, the spiritual, the mystical "Christ"--the Redeemer and all who are legally and vitally united to Him. Thus the antithesis drawn by the apostle is between the unity of the "seed" in contrast from ,the diversity of the "seeds." This had been strikingly shadowed forth on the earth plane. Abraham had two sons; but one of them, Ishmael, was excluded from the highest privileges: "In Isaac shall thy seed be called" (Gen. 21:12). But those words did not signify, All the descendants of Isaac are destined unto heavenly bliss; rather do they affirm that it was from Isaac that the promised Messiah would, according to the flesh, descend.
Later, the line of Messiah's descent was more definitely restricted; for of Isaac's two sons, Esau was rejected and Jacob was chosen as the progenitor of Christ. Out of Jacob's twelve sons, Judah was selected as the tribe from which the promised Seed should issue. Out of all the thousands of Judah, the family of Jesse was the one honored to give birth to the Savior (Isa. 11:1). Of Jesse's eight sons (1 Sam. 16:10, 11), David was appointed to be the father of the Messiah. Thus we may see that as time went on, the channel through which Abraham's Seed should issue was more definitely narrowed down and defined, and therein and thereby God gradually made it known how His original promises to Abraham were to receive their fulfillment. The limitation of these promises was evidenced by the rejection of Ishmael, and then of Esau, which clearly intimated that all of Abraham's descendants were not included therein; until, ultimately, it was seen that their fulfillment was received in Christ Himself and those united to Him.
Had the promises of God to Abraham embraced both branches of his family including Ishmael as well as Isaac, then some other term than "seed" would have been used. But God so ordered that so different were the circumstances of their births and future lives, so diverse were the prophecies respecting them, and so utterly dissimilar were the two races that sprang from them, that in Scripture the descendants of Ishmael ceased to be spoken of as the posterity of Abraham. And therein God adumbrated the wide gulf which separated the natural descendants of Abraham (the Jews) from his spiritual children (Christians), and has thereby rendered excuseless our confounding the one with the other when looking for the fulfillment of the promises. The promises were limited originally, and that limitation was evidenced more clearly by successive revelations, until it was shown that none but Christ (and those united to Him) were included: "And to thy seed, which is Christ" (mystical)!
"He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one. And to thy seed, which is Christ." To sum up. The promises of God were never made to all the descendants of Abraham, like so many different kinds of "seed," but were limited to the spiritual line, that is, to "Christ" mystical. Hence the unbelieving descendants of Jacob were as much excluded from those promises as were the posterity of Ishmael and Esau. Contrariwise, believing Gentiles, one with Christ in the everlasting covenant, were as truly embraced by them, as were Isaac and Jacob and all the godly Israelites.
What was before us in the last chapter is of fundamental importance: not only to a right understanding of the Abrahamic covenant itself, but also for a sound interpretation of much of the Old Testament. Once it is clearly recognized that the type merges into the antitype, that believers in Christ are Abraham's "children" (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:7), citizens of the free and heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:16; Eph. 2:19; Rev. 21:2, 14), the "circumcision" (Phil. 3:3), the "Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16; Eph. 2:12, 13), the "comers unto Mount Zion" (Heb. 12:22), it will be found that we have a reliable guide for conducting us through the mazes of prophecy, without which we are sure to lose ourselves in inextricable confusion and uncertainty. This was common knowledge among the saints in days gone by, but alas a generation succeeded them boasting they had new light, only to plunge themselves and their followers into gross darkness.
The promises of God to Abraham and his seed were never made to his natural descendants, but belonged to those who had a like faith with him. It could not be otherwise, "For all the promises of God in him [Christ] are yea, and in him amen, unto the glory of God by us" (11 Cor. 1:20). All the "promises" (not "prophecies") of God are made in Christ; that is, all the blessings promised are placed in the hands of the Mediator, and none who are out of Christ can lay claim to a single one of them. All who are out of Christ are out of God's favor; and therefore the divine threatenings, and not the promises, are their portion. Here, then, is our reply to those who complain, "You apply to the church all the good things of the Old Testament, but the bad ones you relegate to the Jews." Of course we do; the blessings of God pertain to all who are in Christ; the curses of God to all--Jews or Gentiles--who are out of Christ.
Thus, the unbelieving descendants of Jacob were as much excluded from the Abrahamic promises as were the posterity of Ishmael and Esau; whereas those promises belonged as really and truly to believing Gentiles as they did to Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. But alas this basic truth, so clearly revealed in Scripture, is repudiated by "dispensationalists," who are perpetuating the error of those who opposed Christ in the days of His flesh. When He spoke of the spiritual freedom which He could bestow, His unregenerate hearers exclaimed, "We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man" (John 8:33). When He made mention of His Father, the carnal Jews answered, "Abraham is our father"; to which the Savior replied, "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham" (John 8:39). Alas, alas, that so many of our moderns know not who are "Abraham's children."
The vital importance of what we sought to present in the last chapter will appear still more evident when it be pointed out that believers in Christ have a joint heritage with Abraham, as well as a common standing before God. But many will at once object to this, That cannot be; why, the inheritance of Abraham and his seed was an earthly one--it was the land of Canaan which God promised them! Our first answer is, Such was the firm belief of those who crucified the Lord of glory; such is still the conviction of all the "orthodox" Jews on earth today--Jews who despise and reject the Christ of God. Are they safe guides to follow? To say the least, professing Christians who share this view are not in very good company! The very fact that this idea is so widely entertained among Jews who have not the Spirit of God, should raise a strong suspicion in those claiming to have spiritual discernment.
Our second answer is that, If the inheritance of Abraham was an earthly one, namely, the land of Canaan, then most certainly the Christians' inheritance is an earthly one too, for we are all joint heirs with Abraham. Are you, my reader (no matter what you may have received from "deep students of prophecy"), prepared to settle this question by the plain teaching of Holy Scripture? If you are, it may quickly be brought to a simple issue: "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29). What could be clearer than that: "If children, then heirs" (Rom. 8:17)--if children of God, then heirs of God; and in like manner, if children of Abraham, then heirs of and with Abraham. There is no legitimate escape from that obvious conclusion.
In the last verse of Galatians 3 the apostle drew the unavoidable inference from the premises which he had established in the context. Let us return for a moment to Galatians 3:16, and then observe what follows. There the plain statement is made: "Now to Abraham and to his seed were the promises made"; and, as we fully proved in our last chapter, the reference is to his spiritual seed. But as though to remove all possible uncertainty, the Holy Spirit has added: "and to thy seed, which is Christ"--Christ mystical as in 1 Corinthians 12:12 and Colossians 1:24; that is, Christ Himself and all who are united to Him. Thus there is no room left for a shadow of doubt as to whom the Abrahamic promises belonged--his carnal seed being expressly excluded in the "he saith not, and to seeds, as of many."
"And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect" (Gal. 3:17). The only difficulty lies in the words "in Christ." Inasmuch as "the covenant" here mentioned was confirmed only four hundred and thirty years before the law (at Sinai), the reference cannot be to the everlasting covenant--which was "confirmed" by God in Christ ere the world began (Titus 1:2, etc.). Hence we are obliged to adopt the rendering given by spiritual and able scholars: "the covenant that was confirmed before of God concerning Christ"--just as eis Christon is translated "concerning Christ" in Ephesians 5:32 and eis auton is rendered "concerning him" in Acts 2:25. Here, then, is a further word from God that His covenant with Abraham concerned Christ, that is, Christ mystical--Abraham's "Seed."
Now the special point that the apostle was laboring in Galatians 3 was that the promises given by God to Abraham (which were solemnly "confirmed" by His covenant oath) were given centuries before the Sinaitic economy was established; and that inasmuch as God is faithful so that His word cannot be broken (v. 15), then there could be nothing in connection with the giving of the law that would to the slightest degree invalidate what He was pledged to bestow: "The law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect." Be it observed that here "the promise" is in the singular number, the reason for this being that the apostle was about to confine himself to one particular promise, namely, that which respected the inheritance (v. 18).
"For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise" (v. 18). The inheritance was given to Abraham by God long before the law. The question now before us is, What was the inheritance which God gave to Abraham? Easily answered, replies someone: Genesis 12:7, 13:15, and so forth tell us it was "the land of Canaan"; and when God said "this land" He means that, and nothing else. Not quite so fast, dear friend. When a young believer reads Exodus 12, with its varied details of the slaying of the lamb, and the promise of shelter beneath its blood, and wonders what is the spiritual significance thereof, by far his best course is to turn to the New Testament, and prayerfully search for the answer. Eventually he will find that answer in 1 Corinthians 5:7: "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us."
When the young believer reads Leviticus 16, describing the elaborate ritual which the high priest of Israel was required to observe on the annual day of atonement, and is concerned to discover the spiritual meaning of the same, the ninth chapter of Hebrews will give him much light thereon. In like manner, those reading the historical account in Genesis 14 of Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of the Most High God, bringing forth bread and wine and blessing Abraham, to whom the patriarch paid tithes, may learn from Hebrews 7 that Melchizedek supplied a striking foreshadowment of the Lord Jesus in His official character. Now let us point out two things which are common to all these three examples. First, the New Testament teaching thereon in nowise reduces those important Old Testament incidents to mere allegories: it neither repudiates their historicity nor evacuates their literality. Second, but the New Testament does reveal that those Old Testament events possessed a higher meaning than their literal significance, that the historical was but a shadowing forth on earth of that which has its reality or antitype in heaven.
Why not, then, apply this same principle to God's promise to give the land of Canaan to Abraham and his seed? Since believers in Christ are Abraham's children and "heirs according to the promise," then it clearly follows that they are interested in all that was said or promised to him. It is a great mistake to regard certain of the Abrahamic promises as being simply of a temporal kind and restricted to his natural descendants, and that others were of a celestial character and pertained to his spiritual seed. The fact is that the outward and the temporal never existed by itself nor for itself, but was appointed as an adumbration of the spiritual and eternal, and as a means for the obtaining thereof. The outward and the temporal must be consistently viewed throughout as the shell and shadow of the spiritual and eternal.
Nor is the establishing of this important principle left in any doubt as it applies to the subject of the inheritance of Abraham and his seed. In chapter 11 of Hebrews we find the patriarchs themselves identifying their prospects of a future inheritance with ours. "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city" (vv. 9-16). How clear it is from these verses that they looked beyond the literal purport of the promises, unto a heavenly and eternal inheritance, namely, to the same described in 1 Peter 1:4.
We are not now concerned with considering the immediate ends which were served by the natural descendants of Abraham occupying the earthly Canaan--a consideration parallel with the temporal advantages enjoyed by those who lived under the literal exercise of the Aaronic priesthood. Whatever be or be not the future of Palestine in relation to the Jews, even though they again occupy it for a thousand years, certain it is that the promise of God that Abraham and his seed should have "the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession" (Gen. 17:8) has not, will not, and cannot be fulfilled in his natural posterity; for that land, in common with the whole earth, is to be destroyed! No, rather are we now concerned with the spiritual and antitypical meaning thereof.
Our third answer, then, to the oft-made affirmation that the inheritance of Abraham and his seed was an earthly one, is that it is repudiated by Scripture itself. Was the inheritance of Moses an earthly one? No, indeed; for of him we read, "Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward" (Heb. 11:26). Was the inheritance of David an earthly one? No, indeed; for after his kingdom was established, he declared, "Hold not thy peace at my tears, for I am a stranger with thee; and a sojourner, as all my fathers were" (Ps. 39:12); and again, "I am a stranger in the earth" (Ps. 119:19). The "land of Canaan" is no more to be understood in a carnal way than the "seed" of Abraham is to be regarded as his natural posterity. The land of Canaan was no more given to the Jews after the flesh than the "blessing of Abraham" (namely, the Holy Spirit--Galatians 3:14) has come upon them.
"For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not made to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith" (Rom. 4:13). Observe two things: first, it was promised that Abraham should be not merely "the heir of Palestine," but "of the world"; and second, this promise was made to Abraham and "to his seed," which "seed" is defined in Romans 4:12 as those who "walk in the steps of that faith" which their "father Abraham" had. In perfect harmony with this our Lord declared, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit [possess, have dominion over, enjoy] the earth" (Matthew 5:5). If literalists have cast such a shadow over this verse that some readers find it hard to understand, then we suggest that they ponder it in the light of 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 and I John 5:4! In concluding this important chapter we feel that we cannot do better than give the spiritual Calvin's comments on Romans 4:13, which are a refreshing contrast from the carnalizings of "dispensationalists."
"Since he now speaks of eternal salvation, the apostle seems to have somewhat unseasonably led his readers to 'the world'; but he includes generally under this word 'world,' the restoration which was expected through Christ. The chief thing was indeed the restoration of life; it was yet necessary that the fallen state of the whole world should be repaired. The apostle, in Heb. 1:2, calls Christ the Heir of all the good things of God; for the adoption which we obtain through His favour restores to us the possession of the inheritance which we lost in Adam; and as under the type of the land of Canaan, not only the hope of a heavenly life was exhibited to Abraham, but also the full and complete blessing of God, the apostle rightly teaches us that the dominion of the world was promised to him. Some taste of this the godly have in the present life; for how much soever they may at times be oppressed with want, yet as they partake with a peaceable conscience of those things which God has created for their use, and as they enjoy through His mercy and good-will His earthly benefits no otherwise than as pledges and earnests of eternal life, their poverty does in no degree prevent them from acknowledging heaven and the earth, and the sea, as their own possessions.
"Though the ungodly swallow up the riches of the world, they can yet call nothing as their own; but they rather snatch them as it were by stealth; for they possess them under the curse of God. It is indeed a great comfort to the godly in their poverty, that though they fare slenderly, they yet steal nothing of what belongs to another, but receive their lawful allowance from the hand of their heavenly Father, until they enter on the full possession of their inheritance, when all creatures shall be made subservient to their glory; for both heaven and earth shall be renewed for this end,--that according to their measure they may contribute to render glorious the kingdom of God." It will repay the reader to reread the above and meditate thereon as a helpful opening up of Romans 4:13, with its application to us.
In the last two chapters on this most interesting subject we sought to establish the basic fact that the promises of God to Abraham were never made to his natural descendants, but rather to his spiritual seed--that is, to those possessing a like faith with his. Consequently, the unbelieving posterity of Jacob were as much excluded from the spiritual blessings of the covenant as were the offspring of Ishmael and Esau. Then we sought to show, by an appeal to Romans 4:13-16; Galatians 3:16-18, 29; and Hebrews 11:9-16 that all who belong to Christ have a joint heritage with Abraham. At the close of the preceding chapter we endeavored to dispose of the objection that the inheritance promised to Abraham was merely an earthly one. Before proceeding further, we make a suggestive quotation from the writings of Robert Haldane.
"The land of Canaan was a type of the heavenly country. It was the inheritance given by promise to Abraham and his posterity: as his descendants after the flesh inherited the one, so his spiritual seed shall inherit the other. Canaan was the land of rest, after the toils and dangers of the wilderness. To make it a fit inheritance, and an emblem of that inheritance which is undefiled, and into which there shall in no wise enter any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, it was cleared of the ungodly inhabitants. As the introduction of the people of Israel into that land was not effected by their own power or efforts (Joshua 24:12; Ps. 44:4), but by the unmerited goodness and power of God; so the children of God do not obtain possession of the heavenly inheritance by their own power or efforts, but by the free grace and power of God (Rom. 9:16). As those who believed not were excluded from Canaan, so all unbelievers will be excluded from Heaven. As Moses could not lead the people of Israel into Canaan, that honour being reserved for Joshua, so it is not by the law that the people of God shall enter Heaven, but by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the true Joshua. No other country on earth could have been selected as a fitter emblem of Heaven: it is called in Scripture 'the pleasant land', 'the glory of all lands,' 'a land flowing with milk and honey.'"
Not only was Palestine a striking and beautiful type of heaven, but the promise of the heavenly Canaan was couched under the promise of the earthly Canaan. The patriarchs themselves so understood it, as is abundantly evident from Hebrews 11. "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed" (v. 8). That place which he was to afterward receive for an inheritance could not be the earthly Canaan, for we are distinctly told that God "gave him none inheritance in it, not so much as to set his foot on" (Acts 7:5), and in the absence of any Scriptural statement to that effect, it would seem most incongruous to suppose that after spending four thousand years in heaven, the patriarch, after the resurrection, will again reside upon earth. No, his hope concerned a "heavenly country" (Heb. 11:14, 16); yet no promise concerning it is found anywhere in the Old Testament unless it be the real kernel inside the promise of the earthly Canaan. That our "hope" is the same as Abraham's is clear from Hebrews 6:17-19.
In addition to the two great promises which our patriarch received that in him should all the families of the earth be blessed and the inheritance be secured to them--was the still greater and yet more comprehensive assurance "to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee . . . I will be their God" (Gen. 17:7, 8). This divine declaration was designed to make known the infinitely condescending relation which Jehovah meant to sustain to His believing people, and to encourage them in the exercise of strong confidence in Him. It was a new revelation to Abraham of the gracious intercourse which He would maintain with them; for so far as Scripture records, no similar word had been given to any of the saints which preceded. Here, then, was a further and fuller unfolding of the divine communications under the Abrahamic covenant, a distinct advance upon what had been previously revealed.
When the Most High promises to be a God unto any, it is in effect declaring that He takes them into His favor and under His protection; that He will be their portion, and that there is nothing good--with a wise respect to their welfare--which He will withhold from them. All there is of evil which needs to be averted, all there is of real good that can suitably be bestowed, is included in this grand assurance. Our finite minds are incapable of defining the capacity of God to bless, or to adequately comprehend all that such a statement includes. Its application is not limited to this life only, but also looks forward to the never-ending ages of eternity. The great Jehovah is solemnly pledged to guide, guard, glorify His covenant people: "My God shall supply all your need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19).
Now each of the promises to Abraham receives a double fulfillment: a "letter" and a "spirit" or, as we prefer to designate them, a carnal and a spiritual. "Thou shalt be a father of many nations . . . and kings shall come out of thee" (Gen. 17:4, 6). In addition to the Israelites, Abraham was the father of the Ishmaelites and the various children of Keturah (Gen. 25:1, 2). But these were all born after the flesh (Gal. 4:23), and were only a figure of the real seed, the spiritual.
This is clear from, "Therefore it is by faith, that it might be by grace, to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed: not to that only which is of the law, but that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all--as it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations" (Rom. 4:16, 17). Thus, in the truest and highest sense Abraham was the father of believers, whether Jews or Gentiles, and of them only. In John 8:39 and 44 Christ emphatically denied that Abraham was the father of the unbelieving Jews of His day.
"And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations, for an everlasting covenant" (Gen. 17:7). The making good of this was adumbrated when Israel after the flesh was taken into covenant by Jehovah at Sinai, whereby He formally became their God and acknowledged them as His people (Ex. 19:5, 6; Lev. 26:12, etc.). But the actual and ultimate accomplishment of Genesis 17:7 is in connection with the spiritual Israel, Abraham's children by faith, and this by a "better covenant:" for with the true house of Israel He says, "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people . . . I will be merciful to their unrighteousnesses, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (Heb. 8:10, 12).
"And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession" (Gen. 17:8). Israel's conquest and occupation of the earthly Canaan in the days of Joshua was the figurative and lower fulfillment of this promise. As we have already shown, its spiritual realization lies in the possession of the "better country" which those who are of the faith of Abraham shall eternally inherit. Thus it was that the patriarchs themselves understood this promise, as is unmistakably evident from Hebrews 11:9:16: their faith was more especially directed to the "heavenly country," of which the earthly was but an emblem.
The same truth was brought out clearly in our Lord's reasoning with the Sadducees, who denied all that was spiritual. "Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Luke 20:37). The covenant promises taught the patriarchs that their resurrection and glorification was necessary to the fulfillment of them. That the "Canaan" in which they were to dwell after the resurrection was to be, not on earth, but in heaven, is equally plain from the previous part of this same conversation of Christ: "The children of this world [the earthly Canaan in which the Sadducees then were] marry and are given in marriage; but they who shall be counted worthy to obtain that world [the heavenly Canaan] and the resurrection from the dead, [to prepare them for it] neither marry nor are given in marriage; neither can they die any more, for they are equal unto the angels" (vv. 34-36).
The apostle Paul gave an exposition of the covenant promises in perfect accord with what we have just considered from the lips of the Lord Jesus. In his defense before King Agrippa, he hesitated not to say, and that in the presence of the Jewish leaders (Acts 25:7): "I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving day and night, hope to come. For which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews" (Acts 26:6, 7). And what was that promise? Their unimpeded and happy enjoyment of the land of Palestine? No, indeed; but "why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?" (v. 8). So also, when before Felix, he declared: "I confess unto thee, that after the way that they [the unbelieving Jews] call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets. And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust" (Acts 24:14, 15).
But where is the promise made unto the fathers of the resurrection from the dead "written in the law"? The answer is, nowhere, unless it be in the covenant promises made to Abraham and repeated to Isaac and Jacob; nor is it there, except in the sense in which they have now been explained. God will raise from the dead all the spiritual seed of Abraham, and will give them "for an everlasting possession" that Canaan above, of which the Canaan on earth was the appointed emblem and shadow. Rightly did James Haldane point out that "One great means by which Satan has succeeded in corrupting the Gospel, has been the blending [we may add "the confusing"] of the literal and spiritual fulfillment of these promises--thus confounding the old and new covenants. This is seen in the attempts made to apply to the carnal 'seed' of believers (Christians) the promises made to the spiritual 'seed of Abraham.'"
We are not unmindful that some of our readers are likely to object strongly to what they would term this "spiritualizing" method of interpreting Scripture. But let it be pointed out that this giving to the covenant promises both a "letter" and "spirit" significance is not a theory formed to serve a purpose: it is in keeping with and required by every part of the Old Testament dispensation, wherein the things of earth were employed to shadow forth heavenly realities, types pointing forward to antitypes. Take for example the temple: it was "the house of God" in the letter, but Christ and His church are so in the spirit. To now call any earthly building "the house of God" is as far below the sense which that expression bears when it is applied to the church of Christ, as calling the nation of Israel the "people of God" was far below the meaning of that phrase when applied to the spiritual Israel (Gal. 6:16).
Things are said of the house of God in the letter which only fully suit the spirit. Solomon declared, "I have surely built thee a house to dwell in, a settled place for thee to abide in forever" (1 Kings 8:13). Now the incongruity of supposing that He whom "the heaven of heavens cannot contain" should dwell in any earthly and material house forever, as "a settled habitation," is only removed by referring it to the spirit. Christ's body (personal and mystical) is the only "temple" (John 2:19, 21; Eph. 2:18-22) of which this is fully true. This is not open to argument: God did not "dwell forever" in the temple built by Solomon, for it was destroyed thousands of years ago; but in His spiritual temple it is accomplished to its utmost extent. According to the same principle must the covenant promises be interpreted: the temporal things promised therein being but images of those "better things" which God promised to bestow upon Abraham's believing children.
Reviewing the ground now covered, let us point out that the first great purpose of the covenant was to make known the stock from which the Messiah was to spring. Second, this covenant revealed that God's ultimate design was the worldwide diffusion of the benefits it announced. Before Nimrod, the whole race spoke one language and had an easy intercourse with each other. But upon the confusion of tongues, they were divided and scattered abroad, and were all alike fast falling into a state of confirmed defection from God. When Abraham was called, and his family selected as a people to whom God was to communicate a knowledge of His will and attach (by sovereign grace) to His service, it would be natural to infer that the rest of the nations were totally and finally abandoned to their own evil devices, and that only the one favored nation would participate in the triumphs of the future deliverer. It is instructive to note how this logical but erroneous conclusion was anticipated by God from the beginning, and refuted by the very terms of the covenant which He made with Abraham.
The patriarch and his descendants were indeed set apart from all others; peculiar privileges and blessings of the highest value were conferred upon them; but at the very conferring of them the Lord gave an express intimation that those privileges were confined to them in trust, and that the Israelitish theocracy was only a temporary arrangement, for in Abraham would "all families of the earth be blessed." Thus clear announcement was made that the time would come when the middle wall of partition would be broken down and all restrictions removed, and the blessings of Abraham be extended to a far wider circle. The external arrangements of the covenant were simply a necessity for a time, with the object of securing grander and more comprehensive results. "In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 22:18) was a definite publication of the international scope of the divine mercy.
Thus, the Abrahamic covenant, taken as a whole, not only defined the particular line from which the Messiah was to spring, announced the needful (temporal) arrangements in preparation for His appearing, and the extent to which His glorious work was destined to reach; but it placed in a clearer light the relation which (in consequence of it) God condescended to sustain to His redeemed people; and it supplied a striking intimation and typification of the nature of the blessings, which, in virtue of that relation, He designed to confer upon them. It was a wonderful enlargement of revelation; it was the gospel in figure, and is so regarded in the New Testament (John 8:56; Gal. 3:8). The apostle Paul refers to the Abrahamic covenant again and again as foreshadowing and illustrating the privileges bestowed upon Christians, and of the principle on which those privileges are conferred--a faith which is evidenced by obedience.
The grand promises of the Abrahamic covenant, as originally given to the patriarch, are recorded in Genesis 12:2, 3, 7. The covenant itself was solemnly ratified by sacrifice, thus making it inviolable, in Genesis 15:9-21. The seal and sign of the covenant, circumcision, is brought before us in Genesis 17:9-14. The covenant was confirmed by divine oath in Genesis 22:15-18, which provided a ground of "strong consolation" (Heb. 6:17-19). There were not two distinct and diverse covenants made with Abraham (as the older Baptists argued), the one having respect to spiritual blessings and the other relating to temporal benefits. The covenant was one, having a special spiritual object, to which the temporal arrangements and inferior privileges enjoyed by the nation of Israel were strictly subordinated, and necessary only as a means of securing the higher results contemplated.
It is true that the contents of the covenant were of a mixed kind, involving both the natural descendants and the spiritual seed of Abraham, its promises receiving a minor and major fulfillment. There was to be a temporary accomplishment of those promises to his natural offspring here on earth, and there was to be an eternal realization of them to his spiritual children in heaven. Unless this twofoldness of the contents of the covenant be steadily borne in mind, it is impossible to obtain a right and clear view of them. Nevertheless it is highly essential that we distinguish sharply between the two, lest we fall into the error of others who insist that the spiritual blessings belonged not only to the natural seed of Abraham, but to the offspring of Christians as well. Spiritual blessings cannot be communicated by carnal propagation.
Nothing could more clearly establish what has just been pointed out than, "For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed" (Rom. 9:6-8). All of Abraham's descendants did not participate in the spiritual blessings promised to him, for to some of them Christ said, "Ye shall die in your sins" (John 8:24), which was shadowed forth in the fact that Ishmael and Esau were excluded from even the temporal privileges enjoyed by the offspring of Isaac and Jacob. Nor do all the children of Christians enter into the spiritual privileges promised to Abraham, but only those which were eternally chosen unto salvation; and who they are cannot be known until they believe: "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham" (Gal. 3:7).
Let us point out in the next place that Abraham's covenant was strictly peculiar to himself; for neither in the Old Testament nor in the New is it ever said that the covenant with Abraham was made on behalf of all believers, or that it is given to them. The great thing that the covenant secured to Abraham was that he should have a seed, and that God would be the God of that seed; but Christians have no divine warrant that He will be the God of their seed, nor even that they shall have any children at all. As a matter of fact, many of them have no posterity; and therefore they cannot have the covenant of Abraham. The covenant of Abraham was as peculiar to himself as the one God made with Phinehas, "And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood" (Num. 25:13), and as the covenant of royalty which God made with David and his seed (2 Sam. 7:12-16). In each case a divine promise was given securing a posterity; and had no children been born to those men, then God had broken His covenant.
Look at the original promises made to Abraham: "And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shah be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:2, 3). Has God promised every Christian that He will make of him a "great nation"? or that He will make his "name great"--celebrated like the patriarch's was and is? or that in him "all the families of the earth shall be blessed"? Surely there is no room for argument here: the very asking of such questions answers them. Nothing could be more extravagant and absurd than to suppose that any such promises as these were made to us.
If God fulfills the covenant with Abraham and his seed to every believer and his seed, then He does so in accord with the terms of the covenant itself. But if we turn to and carefully examine its contents, it will at once appear that they were not to be fulfilled in the case of all believers, in addition to Abraham himself. In that covenant God promises that Abraham should be "a father of many nations," that "kings shall come out of thee," that "I will give thee and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession" (Gen. 17:5-8). But Christians are not made the fathers of many nations; kings do not come out of them; nor do their descendants occupy the land of Canaan, either literally or spiritually. How many a godly believer has had to mourn with David: "Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, for this is all my salvation" (2 Sam. 23:5).
The covenant established no spiritual relation between Abraham and his offspring; still less does it establish a spiritual relation between every believer and his babes. Abraham was not the spiritual father of his own natural offspring, for spiritual qualities cannot be propagated by carnal generation. Was he the spiritual father of Ishmael? Was he the spiritual father of Esau? No, indeed; instead, Abraham was "the father of all them that believe" (Rom. 4:11). So far as his natural descendants were concerned, Scripture declares that Abraham was "the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised" (Rom. 4:12). What could be plainer? Let us beware of adding to God's Word. No theory or practice, no matter how venerable it be or how widely held, is tenable, if no clear Scripture can be found to warrant and establish it.
The question may be asked, But are not Christians under the Abrahamic covenant? In the entire absence of any word in Scripture affirming that they are, we answer No. The blessing of Abraham has indeed "come on the [believing] Gentiles through Jesus Christ" (Gal. 3:14), and what this blessing is, the very same verse tells us--namely, "that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. "That blessing consists not in creating spiritual relations between believers and their infant offspring, but is for themselves, in response to the exercise of their faith. Plainer still is Galatians 3:9 in defining for us what the "blessing of Abraham" is which has come upon the Gentiles: "So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham." And again, "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham" (v. 7). The only spiritual children of Abraham are such as have faith.
We must now turn to and consider the seal of the covenant. "And God said unto Abraham, Thou shah keep. my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant which ye shall keep between me and you and thy seed after thee: Every man-child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man-child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man-child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant" (Gen. 17:9-14).
In seeking to ascertain the significance of the above passage, we cannot do better than throw upon it the light of the New Testament. There we are told, "And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised: that righteousness might be imputed unto them also" (Rom. 4:11). The first observation we would make upon this verse is that it definitely establishes the unity of the Abrahamic covenant, for in Romans 4:3 the apostle had quoted from Genesis 15--where the word covenant occurs for the first time in connection with Abraham; and now he refers us to Genesis 17, thereby intimating it is one and the same covenant in both chapters. The main difference between the two chapters is that the one gives us more the divine side (ratifying the covenant), the other the human side (the keeping of the covenant, or obedience to the divine command).
The next thing we would observe is that circumcision was "a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had." Again we would say, Let us be on our guard against adding to God's Word, for nowhere does Scripture say that circumcision was a seal to anyone but to Abraham himself; and even in his case, so far was it from communicating any spiritual blessing, it simply confirmed what was already promised to him. As a seal from God, circumcision was a divine pledge or guaranty that from him should issue that seed which would bring blessing to all nations, and that, on the same terms as justifying righteousness had become his--by faith alone. It was not a seal of his faith, but of that righteousness which, in due time, was to be wrought out by the Messiah and Mediator. Circumcision was not a memorial of anything which had already been actualized, but an earnest of that which was yet future--namely, of that justifying righteousness which was to be brought in by Christ.
But did not God enjoin that all the males of Abraham's household, and in those of his descendants, should also be circumcised? He did, and in that very fact we find definite confirmation of what has just been said above. What did circumcision seal to Abraham's servants and slaves? Nothing. "Circumcision neither signed nor sealed the blessings of the covenant of Abraham to the individuals to whom it was by Divine appointment administered. It did not imply that they who were circumcised were accounted the heirs of the promises, either temporal or spiritual. It was not applied to mark them individually as heirs of the promises. It did not imply this even to Isaac and Jacob, who are by name designated heirs with Abraham. Their interest in the promises was secured to them by God's expressly giving them the covenant, but was not represented in their circumcision. Circumcision marked no character, and had an individual application to no man but Abraham himself. It was the token of this covenant; and as a token or sign, no doubt applied to every promise in the covenant, but it did not designate the individual circumcised as having a personal interest in these promises. The covenant promised a numerous seed to Abraham; circumcision, as the token of that covenant, must have been a sign of this; but it did not sign this to any other. Any other circumcised individual, except Isaac and Jacob, to whom the covenant was given by name, might have been childless.
"Circumcision did not import to any individual that any portion of the numerous seed of Abraham should descend through him. The covenant promised that all nations should be blessed in Abraham--that the Messiah should be his descendant. But circumcision was no sign to any other that the Messiah should descend from him,--even to Isaac and Jacob this promise was peculiarly given, and not implied in their circumcision. From some of Abraham's race, the Messiah, according to the covenant, must descend, and circumcision was a sign of this: but this was not signed by circumcision to any one of all his race. Much less could circumcision 'sign' this to the strangers and slaves who were not of Abraham's posterity. To such, even the temporal promises were not either 'signed' or sealed by circumcision. The covenant promised Canaan to Abraham's descendants, but circumcision could be no sign of this to the strangers and slaves who enjoyed no inheritance in it" (Alexander Carson, 1860).
That circumcision did not seal anything to anyone but to Abraham himself is established beyond shadow of doubt by the fact that circumcision was applied to those who had no personal interest in the covenant to which it was attached. Not only was circumcision administered by Abraham to the servants and slaves of his household, but in Genesis 17:23 we read that he circumcised Ishmael, who was expressly excluded from that covenant! There is no evading the force of that, and it is impossible to reconcile it with the views so widely pervading upon the Abrahamic covenant. Furthermore, circumcision was not submitted to voluntarily, nor given with reference to faith, it was compulsory, and that in every instance: "He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money must needs be circumcised" (Gen. 17:13)--those refusing, being "cut off from his people" (v. 14). How vastly different was that from Christian baptism!
It maybe asked, If, then, circumcision sealed nothing to those who received it, except in the one case of Abraham himself, then why did God ordain it to be administered to all his male descendants? First, because it was the mark He selected to distinguish from all other nations that people from whom the Messiah was to issue. Second, because it served as a continual reminder that from the Abrahamic stock the promised Seed would spring--hence, soon after He appeared, circumcision was set aside by God. Third, because of what it typically foreshadowed. To be born naturally of the Abrahamic stock gave a title to circumcision and the earthly inheritance, which was a figure of their title to the heavenly inheritance of those born of the Spirit. The servants and slaves in Abraham's household "bought with money" beautifully adumbrated the truth that those who enter the kingdom of Christ are "bought" by His blood.
It is a mistake to suppose that baptism has come in the place of circumcision. As that which supplanted the Old Testament sacrifices was the one offering of the Savior, as that which superseded the Aaronic priesthood was the high priesthood of Christ, so that which has succeeded circumcision is the spiritual circumcision which believers have in and by Christ: "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in, putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2:11)--how simple! how satisfying! "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him" (v. 12) is something additional: it is only wresting Scripture to say these two verses mean "Being buried with him in baptism, ye are circumcised." No, no; verse 11 declares the Christian circumcision is "made without hands," and baptism is administered by hands! The circumcision "made without hands in putting off [judicially, before God the body of the sins of the flesh" has taken the place of the circumcision made with hands. The circumcision of Christ has come in the place of the circumcision of the law. Never once in the New Testament is baptism spoken of as the seal of the new covenant; rather is the Holy Spirit the seal: see Ephesians 1:13; 4:30.
To sum up. The grand design of God's covenant with Abraham was to make known that through him should come the One who would bring blessing to all the families of the earth. The promises made to him were to receive a lower and a higher fulfillment, according as he was to have both natural and spiritual children--for "kings shall come out of thee" (Gen. 17:6) compare Revelation 1:6; for "thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies" (Gen. 22:17) compare Colossians 2:15; Romans 8:37; I John 5:4. Abraham is called a "father" neither in a federal nor in a spiritual sense, but because he is the head of the faith clan the prototype to which all believers are conformed. Christians are not under the Abrahamic covenant, though they are "blessed with him" by having their faith counted unto righteousness. Though New Testament believers are not under the Abrahamic covenant, they are, because of their union with Christ, heirs of its spiritual inheritance.
It only remains for us now to point out wherein the Abrahamic covenant adumbrated the everlasting covenant. First, it proclaimed the international scope of the divine mercy: some out of all nations were included in the election of grace. Second, it made known the ordained stock from which the Messiah and Mediator was to issue. Third, it announced that faith alone secured an interest in all the good God had promised. Fourth, in Abraham's being the father of all believers was shadowed forth the truth that Christ is the Father of His own spiritual seed (Isa. 53:10, 11). Fifth, in Abraham's call from God to leave his own country and become a sojourner in a strange land, was typed out Christ's leaving heaven and tabernacling upon earth. Sixth, as the "heir of the world" (Rom. 4:13), Abraham foreshadowed Christ as "the heir of all things" (Heb. 1 :2). Seventh, in the promise of Canaan to his seed we have a figure of the heavenly inheritance which Christ has procured for His people.
(It seems a sad tragedy that the people of God are so divided on the subject of baptism. Though we have strong convictions on the subject we have refrained from pressing--or even presenting--them in this study. But it seemed impossible to deal faithfully with the Abrahamic covenant without making some slight reference thereto. We have sought to write temperately in the above chapter, avoiding harsh expressions and needless reflections. We trust the reader will kindly receive it in the spirit in which it is written).